Say a hostel owner in Spain wants to freshen up her website with new images. She doesn’t know how to do this on her own, so she posts a job offer online. An Indian graphic designer sees the post and makes an offer, which the hostel owner reviews and accepts. The new website is live a week later, and the designer has received his pay and is browsing for his next gig.
At least, that’s how it should work. Unfortunately, smoothly and securely connecting employers and freelancers from around the globe is no easy task. What looks like a simple process actually requires powerful tools to keep all parties safe from the online interactions and transactions that could go wrong.
Employers obviously want to address their hiring needs quickly, but they cannot risk accidentally connecting with people who are less skilled than they seem or fraudsters pretending to be legitimate freelancers. Additionally, those whose livelihoods depend on gig work will face financial issues if they pour time into a project for an employer who refuses to pay. Gig work marketplaces must tackle these concerns on top of meeting various governments’ security and compliance regulations – and do so quickly, or they’ll turn their user base away.
In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Matt Barrie, CEO and founder of Freelancer.com, explained what it takes to provide swift, secure onboarding to freelancers and employers around the world.
“You want to authenticate your users so you know who they are, and you want to stop fraud,” he said. “It’s complicated because, in all these jurisdictions around the world, identity documents are different … and those documents will change over time.”
Freelancer.com requires each user to upload both a photo of his or her ID documents and a selfie with the ID. Verifying identities in individual jurisdictions means the company must be familiar with each region’s ID documents. Checking the fonts, images and orientation and comparing them to the region’s standards can all help detect ID-tampering fraud, Barrie said.
Processing these documents takes Freelancer.com about 15 minutes, and users can be informed in real time of issues like blurry photos.
The Human Touch (and Scrutiny)
While anti-fraud and machine learning tools are all part of the marketplace’s defenses, live agents also have a role to play. These staff members can help freelancers and employers through any troubles they might have with presenting the documents.
“We try to make the process as seamless as possible by having an operator available to talk to you while … we’re looking at your documents,” Barrie said.
Technology can provide strong support, but not much can beat the security of a live video feed, he added – unless, of course, deepfake videos become more sophisticated. Unfortunately, providing enough staff for one-on-one video calls with the platform’s 32 million users isn’t feasible. Instead, Freelancer.com reserves that level of engagement for initial onboarding as needed, and for later-stage verifications of freelancers who are becoming more established.
Once onboarded workers begin accruing multiple projects, Freelancer.com deems additional skills verification valuable. The marketplace then gives these freelancers the option of a Skype, phone or email interview, in which staff members can directly ask users about their businesses, skills and job histories to ensure they have the skills they have advertised. Freelancers who have been through this process can add special badges to their profile pages, proving the company has vouched for their skills.
“The more you see those icons, the greater level of trust you have in that particular user,” Barrie said.
This service is so valuable that Freelancer.com plans to enable workers who have not been offered a verification interview the opportunity to pay for one.
Verification Through Reviews
The user community is also helpful when it comes to identity verification. Freelancers who notice that others are faking their portfolios or profiles can report them, and employers are given the opportunity to write reviews after paying. Freelancer.com recognizes that some could take advantage of the latter, with freelancers opening false employer accounts to provide themselves with glowing, fabricated reviews. To prevent this, the marketplace ranks reviews based on the amount of money paid for a job – the more an employer spends, the greater the weight of the feedback. As a result, freelancers would have to invest a significant amount of money for their false reviews to be impactful.
“The more money you pay, the greater the importance of that particular review,” Barrie said. “That stops someone from creating [an employer] account and then just giving 100 reviews to another account [after] sending a dollar. The feedback is proportional to the ranking you’ve got, the amount of money that’s being paid and the skills as they relate to the next project. So, someone who’s got a very high ranking in web design can’t go into genealogy and win all the projects. Only people with experience in genealogy can.”
Reviews also work both ways, with freelancers having the ability to comment on those who hired them. To protect employers and freelancers from retaliatory bad reviews, the reviews are only displayed to the public after both parties have replied, which encourages honest answers.
Financial peace of mind is important for gig workers. The platform seeks to provide this by requiring employers to provide part, or all, of the funds up front. Freelancer.com holds this money and only releases it to the worker when the employer is satisfied with the job. In addition, the platform automatically detects suspicious behaviors and provides freelancers with optional two-factor authentication processes, protecting them from account takeovers and ensuring that funds end up in the right hands.
Today’s increasingly global, connected world can bring together freelancers and employers that are oceans apart. Making that happen safely, securely and fast enough for everyone involved requires robust onboarding procedures, though. Combining sophisticated software with live staff members can help – but, as companies like Freelancer.com know, the work is never over.